Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious.

13 September 2012 on Blog, Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious.   Tags:

Great Lines & Their Translations from Lyn Hejinian's HAPPILY

Lyn Hejinian's book-length poem, Happily, is definitely not a self-help manual, no matter how much I'd like it to be. Hejinian is a language poet, and what that means in Happily is breaking apart language, hitting you like fresh wind off the coast one minute and leaving you staring at a few lines utterly befuddled the next. Sometimes you have to decipher why two lines would be next to one another, since on the surface they seem unrelated. Sometimes the syntax is so erratic, it's hard to glean any meaning from the words at all. And sometimes you feel like you're walking on the beach blindfolded, using most of your senses but still pretty sure you're missing something huge. Midway through, this book taught me how to read itself, letting the words wash over me until I hit a line that clung to me like a jellyfish (of profundity).

This might be part of the intention—relinquish the desire to read for meaning, some things will stick with you regardless, inhabit the “delicious ambiguity” (Thanks, Gilda Radner)”¦Reading Happily becomes a kind of hypnosis. I enjoyed the experience, but  struggled against it too. By the end of the book (which is only 37 pages), I began to wonder if it was too late in life to go on ADHD medication.

Anyway, my usual meaning-seeking M.O. got the best of me and I wrote down/gave my own translation of some meaningful lines which I hope will entice you to pick up Happily yourselves, well, happily.

Is happiness the name for our (involuntary) complicity with chance? (p.5)
Happiness = We realize that our lives—what happens or what doesn't happen—are based on chance (something we have no control over). The next line? Anything could happen.

It is midday a sentence its context—history with a future. (p.7)
This sentence sounds beautiful spoken out loud (do it!), but also like riding a bicycle with no brakes past the view you came for. One interpretation? Sentences are relevant for the contexts in which we find them—as our histories are relevant for their relationships to our futures.

Also cool to think about: “It is midday” is a “history with a future,” as it straddles the morning and the night.

The visible world is drawn
sentence meaning reason
without that nothing recurs


Both visual art and literature imbue life with a sense of reason and recurrence that is not found elsewhere, as the passage of time is constant, and our lives are not shaped logically. Even if we wake up feeling stuck in a rut, the same as yesterday, we are not the same. Our particles are constantly in motion. However, what we create can provide the comfort of repetition by continuing to exist, by being seen as many times as we would like.

For an appearance not to seem the result of chance it has to
seem (appear) to have been what one was waiting for.


To comfort ourselves that not everything is dictated by chance, we make what happens to us seem like it was choice. In this way, we retain a sense of control. For example, you are walking down the street on a very hot day. You see an ice cream truck on the corner. You had not been thinking about ice cream before (you had, of course, been thinking about poetry), but as soon as you see the truck you think, “This is just what I needed!” This very statement is our need to believe that it is our desires, not chance, that make the world go round.

How the near becomes far and the far becomes near we may
try to discover but we shouldn't take the question too

(p. 20)

I think this one speaks for itself—and is at the heart of Happily.

--Lucy Hitz

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